The #1 Rule for Kids in Church: Screw the Rules

The rules are probably what I remember most in church.

Any given Sunday, my mother would peer down the pew at her 4 children, searching for an imperfection.

Perhaps one of us would pretend to be praying while actually being in a deep, deep slumber.

Maybe one of her kids was coloring too loudly on the paper.

Heaven apparently forbids a spontaneous and OFF-LIMITS giggle fest.

She would do a quality control check every few moments particularly during the quietest portion of the service, the dreaded sermon. And she was always willing to reach down the pew (no matter how far down one of us was sitting) with her long arm and lay down a magnificent but ever-so-subtle…thump.

She was doing the right thing.

She was making sure that all appeared shiny and clean. This was her best performance of the week and most public. This was her favorite but often most stressful part of the week. She was making sure she provided this important experience for her children as well – attending church with all of its liturgy, hymnal legacy and glory.

And I liked church, too. Not the liturgy so much as the McDonald’s run that preceded the service. But I also liked church because it was the part of the week where she showed her pride in us. After all, we were often raved over before and after the 8 am service. “They’re getting so big!” or “They were all so calm during the service!” These well-meaning fellow congregants would marvel at all her lined-up ducklings and marvel at her as well.

And when I became a mom, I had since developed a faith of my own and wanted similar things for my children. I wanted them to be a part of a church and understand the order and reverence that are so rare in this world.

As I became a more transformed believer, however, I began to realize that I had placed these rules from my mother onto my view of God. The “shoulds” and the “oughts” of church service behavior came swinging into my consciousness every week in church. I began to feel anger and embarrassment when my children did not abide by my preconceived rules checklist of:

·         don’t fidget

·         be silent

·         always shake hands and make eye contact with adults

This was just before a typical sibling spat broke out because “he shouldn’t have put his arm so heavily on her shoulder.” <sigh>

So I have a new rule: Rules should be optional in church.

And so I developed a new, grace-approved checklist of my own. It is one that has come about only through trials and much error.

RULE #1 Laugh often in church

RULE #2 Smile often in church


  1. Does this mean that sometimes I have to bust out my exaggerated vibrato during a worship song just to make my daughter chuckle? YES!
  2. Could this mean that I will search for something funny in the lighting or something off about the pastor’s tie just so I can bring it to my son’s attention and get a giggle? Absolutely.
  3. Might I pass my child a note in church filled with emoticons and a funny comment about the sermon? By all means.

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Matthew 11:30 says this about stern church service rules:

“…. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”


I am coming around to the idea that allowing more varieties of behavior in church just might lead to my children having a view of a loving, serving gracious God in his son Jesus. 

Church is important to the life of faith and church is important to me. I know I cannot create a perfect sense of the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit for my kids. But I do plan to keep doing unorthodox things in church so they know the place for freedom and joy is in the house of God. Especially there.

Megan’s Take: Rule number one is that there are no rules! You just went all “Animal House” on us, Christina. Nice one. 🙂 I’m not entirely sure what our “house rules” are regarding sitting in church. We definitely fall into the “whatever you do, just don’t make it TOO obvious category.” Sleeping, just don’t snore. Reading a book, hide it behind the bible… My kids know when they’ve gone too far when they get the “big eyes.”

I think the thing that really hits me in this post is the idea that our perceived “rules” about church might taint our view of God. Rules, regulations, “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” all stem from the law. Jesus came to fulfill the law and be done with it once and for all. Once we know better, I believe we should “do better,” but I am super convicted by the fact that my expectations about proper church behavior and attendance might have a direct impact (for better or for worse) on my children’s view of God. Will they “obey the rules” for the sake of obedience, so they won’t get in trouble? Or will they respect the environment out of sheer love of a gracious God because they have seen that modeled in a gracious church? I will definitely be pondering that one.

Holly’s Take

This all sounds great and liberating, until my kids are the ones that have dropped the 13th item on the floor and had to crawl underneath every surrounding pew to retrieve the fallen items.  Or when my kids have tapped my shoulder for the 42nd time, while my eyes are closed and my hands are raised in the middle of my favorite worship song, to which I want to worshipfully yell, “What the mutha could you possibly need right now?!?”  I think I’ve given up on the idea of my kids looking shiny (as evidenced by how many days between baths they go).  I think I worry less about what we appear to look like, and more about distracting others from their Sunday morning experience.  I’m sure there is some something in there that is a little off, too.  

I certainly do not want my kids thinking that a Christian is tidy and quiet and obedient.  Quite the opposite.  I want them to know that Christians are a big fat mess . . . and that the reason we need Jesus . . . and his grace . . . and his unfathomable love . . . is because we are so messy.   Oh, it makes me cry. 

One thought on “The #1 Rule for Kids in Church: Screw the Rules

  1. Such good thoughts, Christina. So often we/people get stuck thinking it’s the outward appearance (including rule-following) that matters, yet hearts or private lives might be a mess. Truth is this inauthenticity can become off-putting, uninviting & judgmental. I like how Holly wrote it, "Christians are a big fat mess . . . and that the reason we need Jesus . . . and his grace . . . and his unfathomable love . . . is because we are so messy." Thanks for keepin’ it real, ladies.


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